In what may be one of the most astonishing recoveries in medical history, a two-year-old girl who drowned and was not resuscitated for two hours made an astonishing recovery after doctors treated her with oxygen therapies.
Dr. Paul Harch, hyperbaric specialist at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine, and Dr. Edward Fogarty, from the Department of Radiology at the North Dakota School of Medicine, write in Medical Gas Research about the treatment of Eden Carlson, who in February 2016 slipped through a baby gate while her mother took a shower, sidled past a heavy door, then fell into the family swimming pool, where she lay for 15 minutes before being discovered. She experienced cardiac arrest, had fixed dilated pupils, and had a body temperature of 85.1°F.
Eden’s heart didn't beat on its own for two hours after she drowned. Her brain suffered deep grey matter injury and cerebral atrophy with grey and white matter loss after the drowning; she couldn’t speak, walk, or respond to voices, only squirming uncontrollably.
Harch and Fogarty write:
Following hypothermia, vasopressors, ventilator support (10 days), and critical care at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Little Rock, AR, USA, the patient was discharged home 35 days post drowning unresponsive to all stimuli, immobile with legs drawn to chest, and with constant squirming and head shaking.
They note that Harch was consulted; because Eden wasn't located close enough to a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, he commenced nasal cannula with 100% oxygen for 45 minutes twice a day bridging normobaric oxygen therapy at 55 days post-drowning. “Within hours the patient was more alert, awake, and stopped squirming,” they write. Further, “Neurological improvement rate increased over the ensuing 23 days with laughing, increased movement of arms, hands, grasp with the left hand, partial oral feeding, eye tracking, and short sentence speech.”
Then the researchers moved Eden and family to New Orleans, where she started new treatments in a hyperbaric chamber. As sciencealert.com notes, “After just 10 sessions, Eden's mother observed that the toddler was back to ‘near normal, except for gross motor function,’ and so the little girl began physical therapy in addition to the hyperbaric treatment.”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy works by administering oxygen to a patient at an ambient pressure higher than atmospheric pressure, through the use of a sealed, pressurized chamber. By doing this, the amount of oxygen in a patient's blood supply is increased, which can restore normal levels of blood gases and repair damaged tissue. … At the conclusion of the treatment, some 162 days after she drowned, MRI scans revealed that Eden still bore a mild residual injury to her brain, but had experienced a near-complete reversal of cortical and white matter atrophy.
The startling regrowth of tissue in this case occurred because we were able to intervene early in a growing child, before long-term tissue degeneration. Although it's impossible to conclude from this single case if the sequential application of normobaric oxygen then HBOT would be more effective than HBOT alone, in the absence of HBOT therapy, short duration, repetitive normobaric oxygen therapy may be an option until HBOT is available. Such low-risk medical treatment may have a profound effect on recovery of function in similar patients who are neurologically devastated by drowning.
For a video from last December showing how far back Eden has come, see below: